Workers Pay the Price While Congress and Employers Debate Need for Heat Regulations

by | Sep 5, 2023 | Health

Sometimes the heat makes you vomit, said Carmen Garcia, a farmworker in the San Joaquin Valley of California. She and her husband spent July in the garlic fields, kneeling on the scorched earth as temperatures hovered above 105 degrees. Her husband had such severe fatigue and nausea that he stayed home from work for three days. He drank lime water instead of seeing a doctor because the couple doesn’t have health insurance. “A lot of people have this happen,” Garcia said.

There are no federal standards to protect workers like the Garcias when days become excessively hot. And without bipartisan support from Congress, even with urgent attention from the Biden administration, relief may not come for years.

President Joe Biden in 2021 tasked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with developing rules to prevent heat injury and illness. But that 46-step process can take more than a decade and might stall if a Republican is elected president in 2024, because the GOP has generally opposed occupational health regulations over the past 20 years. These rules might require employers to provide ample drinking water, breaks, and a cool-down space in shade or air conditioning when temperatures rise above a certain threshold.

On Sept. 7, OSHA will begin meetings with small-busin …

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